Mastitis can usually be easily treated and most women will make a full recovery very quickly.
Most cases of non-infectious mastitis can be treated using a number of self care techniques such as:
- making sure you get plenty of rest
- drinking plenty of fluids
- using over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to reduce pain and fever; a small amount of paracetamol can enter the breast milk but it is not enough to harm your baby( aspirin is not safe to take while breastfeeding)
- not wearing tight-fitting clothing or a bra until your symptoms improve
- placing a warm compress (a cloth soaked with warm water) over your breast to help relieve the pain; a warm shower or bath may also help
You should try to continue breastfeeding if you have mastitis. Following the advice outlined below should improve your symptoms.
- Keep breastfeeding or expressing milk by hand or using a pump (a device to help you express milk). If necessary, express milk between feeds.
- Feed from the affected breast regularly (at least 8-12 times a day) if you are only breastfeeding your baby (that is, if you are not bottle feeding as well).
- Make sure that your breast is empty after feeds by expressing any remaining milk.
- Massage your breast to release any blockages. Stroke from the lumpy area towards your nipple to help the milk flow.
- Make sure that your baby is properly positioned and attached to your breasts. Your midwife or health visitor will advise you about how to do this.
- Experiment by feeding your baby in different positions to see whether it makes feeding more effective.
- Warming your breast with warm water can soften it, making it easier for your baby to feed.
Visit your GP for additional advice or treatment if your symptoms do not improve or they get worse despite trying these techniques.
Infectious mastitis will need to be treated using a combination of the above techniques and antibiotics ( medication to treat infections caused by bacteria).
If you are breastfeeding, your GP will prescribe an antibiotic that is safe to use. This will usually be a tablet or capsule that you take orally (by mouth) four times a day.
A very small amount of the antibiotic may enter your breast milk and may make your baby irritable and restless or your baby's stools looser (runnier) and more frequent.
These effects are usually temporary and will resolve once you have finished the course of antibiotics. They do not pose a risk to your baby.
Your nipples may become sore if your baby is not properly attached during feeding. Your GP, midwife or health visitor will be able to advise about how to improve your breastfeeding technique. You can also call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212 for advice.
If your nipples do not heal, you should return to your GP because you may have an infection. If you still have mastitis or pain in your breast, your GP may prescribe an oral antibiotic (see above).
Sore nipples can also be a sign of thrush, a fungal infection caused by the yeast fungus, Candida albicans. If you have thrush, you may also have:
- a burning pain in your breast
- very itchy breasts
- pain that is worse at night or after feeding
Your GP may prescribe a cream that you will need to apply to your breasts after every feed, for two weeks. Your baby may also need to be treated if they develop thrush in their mouth.
Read more about oral thrush in babies.